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Google Is Removing Author Photos from Search. Why?

Anyone who follows me knows that I have invested heavily in trying to be one of the foremost experts on the subject of Google Authorship and Google's overall desire to be able to identify authors as topical authorities.

So you might imagine that it came as a huge shock to me when I heard the announcement today that Google will be removing author photos entirely from Google search results. Some might expect I'd even consider it a blow. I don't, but more on that below.

In addition to removing the photos, they will also no longer show Google+ circle counts for Google Authorship authors. All that will remain is a small byline in the result. For more details see http://searchengineland.com/google-plays-authorship-search-results-dropping-profile-image-google-circle-count-195163

UPDATE 10:45 AM EDT

+John Mueller has just added two comments to his original post about this:

"Just to be clear, this has nothing to do with Google+, nor with ads. This change only affects how authorship is shown in search (we continue to process & use authorship markup). "

"No, this is really just about the UI shown in seach. We’re always working on making Google Search better -- we made 890 updates in 2013 alone.  We’ve decided this new design works better, particularly on mobile."

**Back to the original post**

Cleaning Up the SERPs
Google's +John Mueller had the following to say about this change:

We've been doing lots of work to clean up the visual design of our search results, in particular creating a better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices. As a part of this, we're simplifying the way authorship is shown in mobile and desktop search results, removing the profile photo and circle count. (Our experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.)

And that's why this doesn't come as a huge surprise to me. Google has been telling us (and signalling by much of what they've done) that the game for the future of search is now to be won or lost on the mobile playing field. But with the addition of a street band's worth of bells and whistles on the SERPs these past few years, they had set themselves up for a very wobbly and inconsistent search experience.

In short, mobile users want things simple and clean.

It's the same thing most of us do when we realize it's finally time to unclutter our houses. Ultimately, some things must go. You hold up each object and try to think of ways you could justify keeping it, but in the interest of the bigger project (a cleaner, less cluttered house), that old bowling trophy goes into the waste bin.

The End of Authorship? Hells No
That's how I think the decision process went down at Google. I think they understood the value of the author photos, but at the end of the day, whatever that value was, it was not greater than the value they'd gain by uncluttering their search pages.

Google Authorship continues. Qualifying authors will still get a byline on search results, so Google hasn't abandoned it. 

Besides, the bigger project here for Google I think is not author photos in search but the much ballyhooed but so far elusive "author rank," the ability to confidently determine who the content creators are in any given topic whom most people trust, and boost their content when appropriate. At SMX Advanced this month +Matt Cutts indicated that was still a priority, but was also still a long way off in being accomplished.

This is a long haul project folks. Don't head for the lifeboats every time Google makes a change.

Am I disappointed to see the photos going? I sure am. But such is the search business. Google isn't driven by whims or emotions. If they're doing this, they're doing it because their data and testing tells them it will be for the better in the long run.

The biggest downside I see is that probably now there will be less incentive for new people to use Authorship markup. But I have a feeling Google isn't worried about that. As I've been saying, they know that most people never would adopt it anyway. They've got to be working on the ability to identify authors and their content without depending on markup.

That's coming, but it will take a while. Stay tuned!

For another very thoughtful take on this development, I highly recommend this post by +Eli Fennellhttp://stonet.co/TkfMpU

#googleauthorship   #authorship   #googleauthorrank   #authorrank  
ADDENDUM

After reading through tons of comments overnight, I made a further long response. Since many people may not read through all the comments, I'm adding it here:

I want to address the idea that this is the abandonment or "the beginning of the end" for the concept of Authorship at Google. I just don't think so. Rather just like I think we are entering into the maturation phase of the place of Google+ in the Google universe, so we are now entering the maturation phase of Google Authorship and its related concepts. 

I believe that Google very much wants to pursue and eventually master the idea of author authority in search. It fits very well with their overall move into semantic search and "things over strings" or "entities over keywords." They know the future is in search becoming more and more like the way we make connections in the real world. And real life human personal authorities are at the top of the list of those connections.

But this is a much harder project than most people understand. You could really see Matt Cutts struggling to get that across to the audience at SMX Advanced when he was asked about author rank. He wouldn't outright deny that author data might be already in use in some small ways. (He confirmed to me in a tweet a few months ago that it can be a factor in qualifying for In Depth Articles, which I already knew.) But his major message was two things:

1. He really believes personally in the concept of author rank and would like to see it happen.

2. BUT the implementation of it as a direct ranking factor is still probably years off.

Here's why (from me, not Matt):

1. Google has realized that rel=author is at best a tiny first step toward understanding author authority. It has never been adopted by more than a tiny minority of the web's authors, and even many of them have implemented it incorrectly.

2. Therefore, author authority is going to have to be based on much more sophisticated means of machine-based identification and understanding. The rudimentary technologies to do those are already in existence, but they need far more refinement before Google will trust them to affect search results. 

3. Even if Google can better understand who the authors of content are and what the content is about (without depending on cooperative coding by those authors), there is still the whole question of what signals do you then use to assess which authors are more "authoritative" than others? Traditional link signals? A good start, but leaves a lot out of the equation. Social signals? Google has said again and again that social signals are a) hard to access for them in anything but Google+ and b) notoriously hard to interpret correctly.

So...I think Google remains committed to the whole project of identifying the most reputable and trusted authors on given topic areas. But I think it is a very long term project, and we are only at the beginning. Furthermore, Google Authorship has not been abandoned. It still exists, even if it now has a more reduced role in search results.
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183 comments
 
Wow! That's BIG. They didn't mention this at the #IO14  event I was at this morning (to listen to the keynote).
 
+Pat Ferdinandi I/O isn't about Google Search. It's a developer's conference. This announcement really wouldn't fit there.
 
You said it more tactfully than I did.  ;-)
 
You are right, +Mark Traphagen . The breakout sessions at the conference I attended talked beyond developers. One even bragged about this specific feature being of value.
 
+Mike Allton experience has taught me never again to get emotionally attached to anything Google does ;-)
 
Glad I've worked hard at enabling the Author markup to work correctly on websites! Thanks for the interesting information. 
 
+Mark Traphagen It is fairly easy for people to get attached, isn't it?  Good thing for me, I love shiny and new!
 
+Mark Traphagen I was expecting you to bold your I sure am because those are the 3 words that clarified it for me! So many of us are saying that in bold right now!
 
Man a really good looking guy like myself is really sorry to see this go +Mark Traphagen. Some where out there a lot of ugly people are now smiling:)
 
+Bill Gassett true, being deprived of your face is a crime against all the women of the world. Do no evil, Google? ;-)
 
+Mark Traphagen Thanks!

It's funny, but I remember that Google always said author photos in Search were not a guarantee, that they could surface in some circumstances.

So, why would I have set up authorship on the basis of a maybe?  That would have been building quite the stone castle atop ye olde quicke sand.
 
so they are still showing at the moment ... do we have a timeline on when they are likely to disappear? Is it a post I/O thing?
 
Sigh. I was enjoying my supposedly non-existent authorship bonus.
 
Man, I guess I should expect nothing less than change from Google, right? Well, I agree with you +Mark Traphagen, it may be more of a sale to get people to incorporate it. But I think we could still build a strong case. Author byline still remains and if they can ever figure out how to effectively use author rank, those who have been using it on their articles across the web should be ahead, right?
 
+Ryan Mendenhall Absolutely.

And it never hurts to give Google one more little signal of your existence and activity in Search results.

We are, in a very real sense, helping to build the greatest Card Catalog ever.  Google Search Results could be like the Library of Alexandria, but right now too much of it still the wild west with +Matt Cutts as the Sheriff in Town to root out the bad guys.  (Usually by shooting the worst of the bunch as a warning to the others, first.)

Authorship is one more step in building that dream repository of nearly the sum total of human knowledge, designed to not only be as easy to Search as possible, but ultimately to anticipate what you will need before you even knew you needed it.
 
+Charlotte Pierce it may be that just as most savvy site owners are doing, Google is moving toward a unified interface that works on any device, instead of separate versions.
 
+Charlotte Pierce Consistency.  One Google Search Everywhere, as it were.

Besides, wouldn't that just be encouraging people to keep optimizing for a desktop-first world in a mobile-first reality?
 
One big take away from +John Mueller statement is that they saw no noticeable difference in CTR ( that is how I am interpreting  _indicate that click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one_ ) - So authorship is here to stay of course, and a more uncluttered experience sounds awesome.

I do however worry that this may slow the adoption of business to G+, I talk to clients every day, and this was one of their main pain points on G+  " I want my pictures in search"

In this lies an opportunity, to teach more about the semantic web and value of the byline, not just the photo.
 
+Ben Fisher great comment, especially that last part. While I'm not sure it was an actual factor in their decision, Google tends to frown on site owners becoming overly fixated on any one geegaw of search. It indeed sets them up to be doing the wrong things, or more correctly, neglecting other things they should be paying attention to.

And yes, our job just got a little harder, as explaining the incredible value of semantic search is whole lot more esoteric than "Hey look, mom, my photo's on Google!"
 
HAHA - Thanks buddy! Now that is awesome! 
"Hey look, mom, my photo's on Google!"
 
+Ben Fisher This all reminds me of the old theory of wealth redistribution:

Say you take all the money, right now, and divide it equally among all people in the world.  Nothing else changes, just all the money gets divided up.

It's actually easy to see how, in such a situation, while a few souls will cross the class gap before it re-emerges, it will eventually re-emerge in a similar form.  Bill Gates will still become a billionaire, because his company will still be selling billions of dollars worth of stuff, and his stocks will naturally rebound in value.

The gas station attendant, meanwhile, may live it up for a while, but unless they lay the sorts of foundations for the future they probably didn't lay in the first place, the money will all end up spent eventually and they'll be possibly worse off than they were.

Google Search is like that.  At first, it was a true democracy, in the sense of there being almost no one manning the lighthouse.  Those who knew the tricks found it comically absurd to rank above established successful brands.  Since the results kept flowing, they kept them flowing.

Bigger businesses may have been slow to respond, but they generally played it safe with Search optimization if they played it at all, and in the end only a handful of early adopter upstarts have really challenged the old players.  Your average blog is still nowhere near the authority of the New York Times website.

Businesses who lay the foundations for real value, regardless of the technologies involved, are more likely to prosper in the long-term.  You just can't help some business owners get that.
 
+Mark Traphagen there isn't much as good as your calm voice of reason and careful consideration when this kind of stuff happens. Thanks! I'm looking forward to reading +Eli Fennell's remarks and finding out why he says yours are more tactful.... +Ben Fisher, so true. I hear the same thing from clients. And I like your point about the opportunity to (learn) and teach more about the semantic web etc.

+Bill Gassett you could always do a photo email campaign.
 
CTR may not be much different, but I would expect individual's perceptions will be. I can imagine all of those authors without authorship set up getting a bit shirty with Google, once they realised all these other authors had their pictures plastered all over SERPs. Now the pictures are going, perhaps the disgruntled many will calm down a bit.

Just a possibility. There are a lot of people that resist creating Google accounts and want no part of it, whether it makes good business sense or not.
 
Great example of why no one should ever depend on search traffic alone for the bulk of their traffic.  In no way whatsoever, despite some of the most positive people in the world hoping the opposite is true, is this good for authors.  No pic - less traffic.  Pic - more attention, more traffic.  Period.  Already tested.  Already confirmed.  And oh, yay, our names appear in barely legible font under the title.  Yippee.  Glad I don't depend on Google traffic for my living, but still what a piece of crap.  One man's "similar click" value is another man's 5000 visitors per month versus 10,000 visitors per month from one keyword.  That is NOT similar click behavior.
 
Nice post, +Mark Traphagen. One things that perplexes me a bit: couldn't Google have used mediaquery (or other means) to hide author photos on mobile, but show on desktop? 

I don't completely buy the argument that if they want to remove them for mobile, they have to remove them for desktop...
 
I thought that might be coming +Mark Traphagen I kept seeing less and less photos, not a surprise. Thanks for the update.
Joe Bee
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another disappointment - not surprised
 
+Terry Smith they have been intentionally reducing Authorship and other rich snippets since last December.
 
+Ben Fisher I agree this will require more education on the importance of semantic search which continues unabated. 
 
+Mark Traphagen - glad I read your post about this change before I heard about the change elsewhere. I would have been "jumping for the lifeboats" (not really).
 
Thanks for this post +Mark Traphagen and the dialogue it has created!

I get that the picture was nice to have, but at the end of the day, clients want results in the form of leads, phone calls and business. If CTR is all the same then all is well.

Better titles and descriptions are still needed to convert.
 
Quick authors, better get a screen shot for posterity before it's gone :)
 
+Mark Traphagen I'll need to take some time to digest this, but at first glance as many commenters have noted, it seems like this will make our Evangelism of Google plus just a little bit more difficult. Left hand/right hand issues perhaps? But with the gaming of circle counts, I guess that removal was inevitable.
 
+Ronnie Bincer it certainly removes one of the more obvious carrots to dangle. 

As +Ben Fisher and +David Amerland above noted, it means that we've got to double down on helping people understand semantic search, and that the real long term value of things like Authorship never was in the search photos.
 
Yes, I too appreciate your calm sense of reasoning about the change +Mark Traphagen.  Now back to writing articles about what it is I know to help me get found! :)
 
+Mark Traphagen But I liked showing folks the obvious carrot ;-)
Regardless, thanks for your great writeup and perspective on the bowling trophy.
 
+Mark Traphagen Ok, Mark, those crosses over our profile photos seem a little extreme. They remind me of those old cartoons when they'd put X's over the eyes of the bad guys when they got their comeuppance. ;-)

Thanks for your rational and wise response and for the link to +Eli Fennell' post.
I understand that search is what Google is, and that authorship is still very much alive as the Author Information for Search Results guide indicates: http://goo.gl/Xkrd6j

The impact on CTR's is interesting as it was said that by having a photo appear on SERPs was as high as 38-40%. Yet +John Mueller    post says that
the click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.

So is he saying that people click on results the same number of times with or without profile photos?

Are they putting G+ in the corner?

By doing this, they're taking any visible link to the Google+ platform out of sight. Having your G+ profile and follower count visible let your followers (especially in personalized search) know that you were on the platform.

I'm assuming Google+ posts will still rank well and that Authorship will play a role, but the "social networking" aspect will be diminished. 

It's tough, as you know, to break through the content wall.
Having someone be able to identify your profile photo as a part of their network then clicking on your content is part of relationship marketing.

I understand the reason for wanting a consistent and cleaner look. But with this move they're saying "social" is just too messy. 
 
Anyway it was fun while it lasted +Mark Traphagen! On to bigger and brighter things. Like things that they'll never change, such as their semantic knowledge base
 
This is good stuff +Mark Traphagen. Author influence isn't going away and it never will. Google knows that. The ego boost of your headshot is going away. Big difference from authorship being in trouble.  
 
Thank you +Mark Traphagen for your insightful update. It's really helpful and appreciated as is all the time you take to educate so many people here.

As for me, I've always known, whether it's G+, Facebook, or any other publicly held company in the social media space, that the game for them is all about delivering ads to maximize their shareholder value -which is their fiduciary responsibility. 

Anything they can do to keep eyeballs pinned on their ads on our mobile devices { and not on our faces and circle counts, etc -which are very distracting on smaller devices } is what they must do. It makes pure business sense to me. 

Which is not to say that I like it, as I, too, believe, that seeing a familiar face in organic search results is/was much more likely to get readers to click through, than just a pure verbal description. 

However, it's never been about us, it's always been about what creates more click throughs onto Google's ads..and with small screens being the wave of the future, they have to clean it up so the ads are seen..and not our faces. 
 
Lot's a great insights here. I think, this is Google's continued move toward being a one-stop shop for all your needs whether it be airline flights, books, music, etc... +Dries Buytaert outlined this really well in his recent keynote at DrupalCon Austin. 
 
Thank you +Mark Traphagen for your rational explanation. Search above ego works for me, especially long term.
 
+Ray Hiltz "Social is just too messy"... brilliant summary, sad but seemingly true.
 
+Eli Fennell - Wonderful insight and analogy, the semantic correlations with the authorship will still have a higher equity value than those without, that is where we should focus once this change occurs.

+David Amerland and +Gina Fiedel - I have been focusing on teaching the concept of semantic search in almost every single call with prospects and clients. Actually, David the whole concept of feeding baby Google ( Drawshop HOA ) is what helps get the light bulb to turn on for people, it is a simple analogy that seems to resonate very well with people not accustomed to the "meaning" of the phrase semantic search.

I just got off the phone with a pre-IPO company that was interested in engaging, just for the benefit of authorship photo's in search. Then I had to explain that this change is coming, they were a bit disappointed, but after going back and explaining that this changes nothing from a authorship/influence perspective, they were then jazzed again.

The sad thing about this, is that the authorship photo in search was what gave Google+ a very "visible" advantage to companies that do not understand the intricate values of G+ for marketing.

My hope, is that the byline effect, will be enough to still entice businesses to invest in G+.

+Ray Hiltz I do not think they are putting G+ "in the corner". From a roadmap perspective, this is making things much clearer, that G+ is merging at a much more accelerated rate to becoming synonymous with Google.com. And, really that is just a very smart play to remove the friction of adoption to G+ as a platform to what the initial vision was.

What will be really exciting is to see what the next move is, how else can they reduce friction and increase awareness?
 
+Mark Traphagen what a splendid idea! In fact, if you're resourceful, you may find a way to monetize hawking others' photos too.
 
+Ben Fisher are you saying that removal of the profile pic from SERPs reduces friction to adopting Google+? Meaning "I have to use G+ (to show Mom my picture) and I don't like that" may go away and that is a reduction of friction? I'm confused as to why you think this is a removal of friction I guess.
 
I can't see how this would lead to less friction. A major plus for me as a blogger and business was the authorship link/ profile pic/ edge that gave me.

But, knowing mobile is the game, I see why this would clutter on a small screen. I search more and more through mobile, kids do exclusively. Google has to make money.

More of a concern? Lack of mention of G+ much on this update overall. Last year, there was a HOA stream event. This year? Just YouTube Live q&a . With rumors of G+ failing / going away, this was not a good show of faith. It was concerning they did not release in the platform we all use.

That being said, G+ is local now, commenting for YouTube, now messaging for YouTube, business listings, author / publisher.. Do I think it's going anywhere? No.. But the lack of coverage was not the show of support I would have liked. 
 
+Ben Fisher I'm with you on that. Most every conversation with prospects and clients involves a semantic search lesson. Every willing ear. Photos are easy bait because they're shiny and all the rest, but the underlying benefits, as you explain, aren't disappearing. Just the showy part.
 
+leslie carothers to some degree is has been about us. If we don't spend time on G+ and give Google some of our valuable data that they then sell to the market, they (Google) loose. This "carrot" being removed from G+ usage may cause more people to leave or not come at all, and then they (Google) loose some of the data they had hoped to gain. At least I think that's what is going on.
 
+Mark Traphagen While it will be interesting to see if now all qualifying authors will get this small byline on search results, not only qualifying authors on certain websites. Many of us made the experience that our picture was shown on one website, but not on another, although the implemantation was correct on both websites.
 
+Ronnie Bincer How I look at that as reducing friction is this. The "game" so far has been, I need to enable authorship to get my picture in search. The pictures actually showing up in search has been spotty at best, thereby creating a potential friction point.

By Google now moving to a cleaner design and "potentially" ( I say potentially since we do not know for certain what this will look like ) allowing for all authored content, that has authorship in place, "may" show a byline for everyone that has implemented it. Thereby reducing friction in the sense that it will be easier for a company to see that the authorship is "working". 

*Again this is speculation right now. Just a talking point.
 
I'm quite sure that Mobile users get a different version of things triggered by the browser type. If cleaning up is all they are trying to do, I think that they could show a different version of the SERP on mobile than they do on Desktop browsers.
 
Here's a random question: does anyone know when the photos will actually go away?
 
+Laurie Laizure I'm a bit confused by your comment. Are you talking about Google I/O? If so, I don't get why people think there would be major G+ announcements there this year. This year was almost entirely about Android. Don't forget, I/O is NOT the "Google" conference. It's the Google developers conference. 
 
+Mark Traphagen  It wasn't straight forward how to get authorship working either. The key is to have authorship established and then build your authority quite independently of that.

So this graphical change won't alter that as it really is just a superficial change at best. What changes a little though is the verification that it's connected and that may be a little more difficult for some to fathom.
 
+Ben Fisher I don't at all expect that now it will be if you have authorship hooked up correctly you will automatically get the byline snippet. I think those will still have to be earned, just as author snippets always were.
 
I get that +Mark Traphagen... But why no HOA and only YouTube live of the conference? Surely, they are as aware of rumors as we are. Assuring people/businesses/brands who are investing Millions into this format in time and money would have certainly been appreciated. I spend an ungodly amount of time justifying the use of G+ to my industry. It's an investment of my time that could be spent on other facets of my business.. And it would be nice to hear Google address some of this. They KNOW it's a concern. They KNOW brands and small businesses are nervous, why no assurances ?


I have been on G+ since the beginning .. I remember the early days of your establishing as the authorship guy, +Ronnie Bincer, as the Hangout guy.. I am with you.. I believe it G+. I have invested time and money to educate my industry and I have dragged countless brands and people to this platform. I will go on record to say I am disappointed in the lack of response. People not in the industry are looking to Google to assure them that their time and money here is not spent foolishly.

All I was saying is that given sentiment, an assuring comment, show of approval through hosting on G+ HOA, reference to
investment on this platform would have been appreciated.

Fo those of us who are evangelists and bring others in... for years, for the billion dollar company or even small business who has invested time into this platform, we need to know that Google is invested here.

It's only fair to expect the support we have given them back. If this was the time or not.... respect the concerns and address them ... Google had the floor. 
 
Good point, +Ronnie Bincer re: to some extent it has been about us, as that is true. If we don't use it, Google doesn't get the info they need to sell our data to advertisers, but Google is smart enough to know: give us nice, tasty ego carrots, we bite, and then, when we're nice and full, they take them away to concentrate once again on what's always been #1 for them: surfacing the most relevant content and delivering more and more ads.

They fed our ego..and our click throughs, to get adoption, and they were successful. There's a reason Vic Gundrota left. He was about the people..us..and he saw the future..and it was not we the people.
 
I respect your opinion +Laurie Laizure, but I still don't think Google I/O is the platform to do that. 

Want indications of support for the platform? Look at their actions rather than for shows. Google My Business, IMO, is one of the biggest votes of confidence in the future of G+ we've seen in a long time. And it has real substance for business. 

It's time for us to grow up and help the businesses we serve to grow up too. Real search marketing is not about pretty toys like getting your photo in the SERPs. It's about a sophisticated understanding of semantic search, entities, and the real reason Google created G+ in the first place.
 
Google I/O is a Developer's Conference

This is not a Developer issue.
 
Sorry +leslie carothers I just can't be as cynical as you. Yes, this decision as most are is in Google's best interest. But I don't think it's as crass as "make people look at the ads more." I give more credit to Google than that. I think they understand that if the SERPs are less cluttered, more unified, and their testing shows that people are happier with them with less rich snippets, then that keeps people on Google more, and they are exposed to the ads more.
 
It's too bad, but not devastating. I felt a huge connection with my audience from authorship photos. My market is small and super local. People searched and saw my stuff and then saw me in real life and said "hey, you're all over google, that's really impressive." It made SERPS real and brought home the idea that a human you could meet created this content.

It was abused for sure but the fix to that was easy. Torpedoing the whole thing levels the field but it hurts for those who have invested years following g+ down the rabbit hole. I'm still here, it's a secondary issue, but a fix might have been preferable to a scorched earth policy. 
 
I get it.. I'm not disappointed at all in the change. It was awesome to see a pic in SERPs but not something I counted on as a strategy. I would just like them to do a better job in these major updates to let people know G+ isn't going anywhere.


Instantly, from this conference, I got messages and emails... Should I still invest time in G+? Of course I say yes... But I'm tired. I'm tired of defending them. Google needs to do a better job defending themselves. Now would have been a perfect time to show the vote of confidence by hosting via hangouts, telling people straight out G+ isn't going anywhere, and thanking those of us who have stuck by them so far.


I'm not going anywhere. I love the platform. I just wish it loved me back a little bit more. 
 
+Luke Rioux I don't think the problem was with Authorship. In December Google showed they were capapble of dealing with eliminating lower quality Authorship results. I really think this is about a bigger higher level decision to declutter the SERPs in the mobile age.
 
+Mark Traphagen : I am not trying to be cynical, but I guess it came across that way because it's been a long day. However, at the end of the day, you and I are saying the same thing, just in different ways.

If people use Google, they are exposed to the ads. If the experience is less cluttered on smaller screens, the ads are easier to see and they can serve up more of them in less space. So, it is about the ads and I WISH it were about us, the users, but I don't believe it's about us. They allow us to use these platforms for free.. and watch our behavior..and that's fine by me! It's just that I deeply understand that that is what they're doing and that their #1 priority is to maximize shareholder returns. 
 
I'm tired of defending them. Google needs to do a better job defending themselves.  <- I'll drink to that, +Laurie Laizure , and have called G+ out on it more than once. Best to accept the cultural differences between them and industries like yours, and do your best to lead by example (which you do!)
 
I appreciate that +Mark Traphagen. Thanks for the response and for the post. G+ is still a great product and a great place to be. I can't help but think that a big part of the math was that authorship photos robbed the CTR on the adds. I always thought "why would I pay for Adwords when I can't even hook up authorship? I'd rather have p1 position 3 with a headshot for $0." I suspect many business owners are rethinking that calculus too and saying that ads are more attractive now.
 
+Stephan Hovnanian The point is that Google never defend themselves it's just not in their psyche. I really like what they've done with G+ especially in opening up the doors for far more interaction than any other social media platform in history. Additionally they integrated semantic optimization into the mix which was an incredibly radical step seeing their very foundation was based on PageRank aka link building.

You're right it's not perfect but it's the best we've ever had without a doubt. For me it's all about taking the positives and expanding on those :) As you say it's a case of accepting what is and working within those parameters.
 
So, raise your hand if you claimed authorship just so you could be vain and have your picture show up in search?  I've heard the "vanity" issue brought up now several times and, honestly, it's really pissing me off.  Please tell me that was never an actual, serious "thing" with people!
 
CTR for me  +Jack Humphrey . At first, when I learned of authorship, I didn't even realize it came with a  profile picture search. When I realized it did and realized that in my own search behavior, my eyes would automatically be drawn to the listing with the pic first.. More personal. More engaging, I began appreciating it even more.
 
Thanks for keeping us up to date +Mark Traphagen! No doubt there will be a lot of speculation and we can hear the anti-Google+ journalists typing furiously already. lol
 
+David Amerland The reason the study of semantic search continues unabated is because semantics itself is orders of magnitude more difficult to understand than code.  Want to see how complex anyone, search "linguistics."  (You'll go mad. Bwahahahaha.  As +George Kozi  would say.  ;'))
 
So wait... Will I or will I not be able to see my pretty face within search results?
 
+Mark Traphagen - If I clean up the clutter from my house, I will still save the family photos....no matter how mobile my lifestyle may become. ;)
 
+Laurie Laizure - I totally agree with you.  It's not your or job to defend Google's actions - as incomprehensible and/or meaningful they may be.
 
Seems to me that if you just focus on good content and don't screw up any major SEO thing on your site you will ultimately be fine. The less hoops and games the better. I would rather focus on content anyhow.
 
As soon as I heard this news, I searched, hoping you'd have something for me.  When I heard about it, I immediately felt like this was part of getting author rank implemented.  I don't know how, it just 'feels' that way to me.

This is definitely not what I wanted to see happen with authorship, but I look forward to whatever happens next. Thanks +Mark Traphagen 
 
It's a profile image party. An everyone is invited.
 
I wonder if the reviews "stars" markup will go away too? I'm thinking of switching markups tomorrow.

For me the photo increased ctr in a big way.

I think this will be a immediate blow to new g+ users but in the end I'm sure google knows what they are doing.

I am staying optimistic that this isn't solely about them acquiring more ad dollars as that mind set would drive me to severely dislike google and could curtail my online efforts.

For a guy like me with a small local market with the serps being dominated by leads services the author markup separated us from them and provided real value to the user as we are actually what they are looking for when they search home remodeling dayton ohio.

Now I guess it's back to the drawing board.

I'm excited to see what happens next. I may just write, write, write, then write some more and hopefully Google can let me know where to post my content.

At this point I'm honestly lost as to where to put articles. I only have so many services and new micro pages never outrank the older man service page so what do I do now? Of course it's helpful to the reader when I expand on micro topics but when the reader never finds the page, who cares.

I suppose the immediate take away is that I should pay the man, cancel our vacation and dive face first into an ad campaign, because that's works great for a small business like mine... 😳
Dan G.
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Cheer up in a few years the hardware and connectivity will improve allowing those photos again, just after Google has removed them. :)

Such is the internet.
 
+Charlotte Pierce i never once saw authorship photos on mobile. theyve always only appeared on desktop browsers for me
 
Wow. This isn't an April Fool joke?? I just saw a post with an author photo. Removing the number of followers makes sense to stop the circle sharing. Still waiting for the other shoe to drop. 
 
+Peter Hatherley I really thought it was a hoax when I read the first few sentences of Mark Traphagen"s post. I think it will clear the way for genuine author rank.
 
Thanks for the info and the thoughtful analysis +Mark Traphagen.  Very interesting idea about attribution without authorship.
 
Reminds me of what they to google reader. Besides gmail the product that I used the most when they decided to remove it. 
 
In one swoop the visual connection between authorship and Google+ have been removed from results.

By removing the image AND the circle counts, Google search have just slapped Google+ back.

I am not convinced that this is a "strategic" move, but more of an internal political struggle about who gains control of the Google monster ultimately.

Google search just gave Google+ an uppercut.

The question is now, can Google+ recover and fight its way back into search.

This is a question of entities and which entity holds the reigns it seems to me and not a question of a cohesive strategy.

It would be extremely simple for Google to display different looking results in mobile and desktop if images in mobile search were really the issue, after all, the searches are already different in look...

Do we really believe there are no internal power struggles at Google?

This to me smacks of political manoeuvring, look at the "spin" on the idea that facial images don't affect CTR...

...Where you find "spin" you find politics...
 
"Our experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one." 

That sounds like bollocks to me!
 
Could it be related to the amount of bandwidth that is consumed by showing the images in Search?
 
Google saving on bandwidth? We're in trouble if they're doing that!
 
Seems like they just want a less cluttered search result page.
 
I guess it's their next step in winding down Authorship, this will definitely have a impact on the blogging world.
 
From a communication standpoint Authorship is a mess. I have been following it from the beginning and Google has never been clear about their intentions. Not a good start for what could be a great ranking factor. 
 
Feedback from Google has always been sketchy. But I believe Apple applies the same philosophy...
 
Well, this is what i get for indulging in a night's sleep after putting  up a post like this ;-)

Too much to respond to here, but I will make a few "morning after" comments. I am, though, for now going to stay away from the conspiracy theory and internal politics speculations. Conspiracy theories are always juicy and tempting, but can rarely be proven.

What I do want to address is the idea that this is the abandonment or "the beginning of the end" for the concept of Authorship at Google. I just don't think so. Rather just like I think we are entering into the maturation phase of the place of Google+ in the Google universe, so we are now entering the maturation phase of Google Authorship and its related concepts. 

I believe that Google very much wants to pursue and eventually master the idea of author authority in search. It fits very well with their overall move into semantic search and "things over strings" or "entities over keywords." They know the future is in search becoming more and more like the way we make connections in the real world. And real life human personal authorities are at the top of the list of those connections.

But this is a much harder project than most people understand. You could really see Matt Cutts struggling to get that across to the audience at SMX Advanced when he was asked about author rank. He wouldn't outright deny that author data might be already in use in some small ways. (He confirmed to me in a tweet a few months ago that it can be a factor in qualifying for In Depth Articles, which I already knew.) But his major message was two things:

1. He really believes personally in the concept of author rank and would like to see it happen.

2. BUT the implementation of it as a direct ranking factor is still probably years off.

Here's why (from me, not Matt):

1. Google has realized that rel=author is at best a tiny first step toward understanding author authority. It has never been adopted by more than a tiny minority of the web's authors, and even many of them have implemented it incorrectly.

2. Therefore, author authority is going to have to be based on much more sophisticated means of machine-based identification and understanding. The rudimentary technologies to do those are already in existence, but they need far more refinement before Google will trust them to affect search results. 

3. Even if Google can better understand who the authors of content are and what the content is about (without depending on cooperative coding by those authors), there is still the whole question of what signals do you then use to assess which authors are more "authoritative" than others? Traditional link signals? A good start, but leaves a lot out of the equation. Social signals? Google has said again and again that social signals are a) hard to access for them in anything but Google+ and b) notoriously hard to interpret correctly.

So...I think Google remains committed to the whole project of identifying the most reputable and trusted authors on given topic areas. But I think it is a very long term project, and we are only at the beginning. Furthermore, Google Authorship has not been abandoned. It still exists, even if it now has a more reduced role in search results.
 
When I was first learning about authorship I recall coming across blog posts that parroted 15% greater click-through for search results displaying a photo. It seems that +John Mueller's comment: "Our experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one." indicates that was false data. 
 
"similar to the previous one" is fluffy in its own right without a link to backup data, don't you agree +Mark Vang ? 
 
+Mark Vang It's possible that, A) Improved CTR is a novelty factor, i.e. once people get used to it, the benefit evaporates. B) Even if the CTR rates were higher, CTR is not the definition of delivering the right result.  Suppose people clicked through more on results with faces, but were equally likely to go back and keep Searching?  That would indicate the result was not an improvement.
 
+Mark Traphagen I do agree with your conclusion. But I really think it might almost kill Google+ for good. Small webmasters are those who animate the communities. The pictures are something really concrete that bloggers with no skill could be interested in. Now, I wouldn't recommend to a beginner (it could be a great writer with no IT skills) to have a Google+ account as the incentive has became so low. The notion of author rank is not enough precise to put too much effort on it. It will be just an asset for people who have a good understanding of SEO. And we should stop being naive, the true reason of all those changes is definitly Adwords. Probably users tend to click more on links with pictures intead of Adwords. And it means Google+ is not a priority anymore. It's a pity as the concepts of authorship and authorrank had the potential to make internet better.
 
+Eli Fennell I was actually thinking "A" but deleted it from my comment because I felt it was getting too long. ;)

Of course we can't discount: C) Total BS that someone in "social media" made up for a blog headline.

In my experience, C is often the reason for a lot of data that is floating around.
 
Developers are the ones who implement authorship in their companies, so it completely fits #GoogleIO +Mark Traphagen. A post on Google+ during Google's big conference is a way to bury this news. The question is - why?
 
Despite all the haranguing by countless folks on social media, this seems to make sense on some level. If it was done, as some assume, to keep the images from being a distraction away from ads, maybe I don't like it, but I see their point. Or, as you point out, Mark, it's very likely the change is largely owing to cleaning up the mobile experience. Either way, I can see the point. It is, however, a blow to those of us working to get business owners to adopt G+ as a viable platform.
 
I know we all love to picture Google as this scientific rational entity that can do no wrong, but I think that is a little naive.

This is a human organisation, with humans involved and after Vic leaving, this, what I can only see as a step backward in terms of Google+'s impact in search results.

If my conjecture's are correct, then we will see a watering down over the next few months of Google+ impact in search results.

I am not convinced by the "we want it to look better" argument. Surely rich imagery in search results take it forward not backwords.

Search results filled with one piece of bland text after another offers no visual impact and removes visual hooks.

Its a bit like saying "we took all the illustrations out of the book because they detracted from the story"....

Or "we decided to broadcast your tv signals in black and white because it improves the visual experience..." How is that logical?

I am not buying it.

I sincerely hope my suspicions are wrong and this is not some type of Google political infighting for the control of what appears in search...
 
+Mark Traphagen phew thanks for your perspective. I agree with +Mark Timberlake that Google could have delivered a different interface to mobile if they had chosen to.

I suspect the key factor seems to be that take up of authorship was so low and preferred to put resources into an area with greater return.
 
As I said earlier, I'm not going to waste time responding to conspiracy theories, but I do want to address the "they did this to drive up ad clicks" theory.

1) Could it be true? Sure, but that's the power of conspiracy theories. They take on power because they "could" be true but there is never any way to prove them. So at the end of the day, I feel safe in ignoring them.

2) Is it likely to be true? I don't think so at all.

2a) The assumption that removing a feature from organic search automatically leads to more ad clicks has no basis. Does it make sense to think that people think, "Oh, there are no author photos in these results. Oh well, I guess I'll just click some ads then!" Absurd.

2b) I don't think Google is so cynical and short-termed in their thinking to behave that way. Yes, of course they want more ad clicks. But I think they understand the way to get more of those in a sustainable fashion that will keep them profitable for years to come is to keep improving the overall user experience on Google, keeping people happy with Google and coming back.
 
+Stephan Hovnanian yes, I couldn't help notice that the post didn't contain any hard data or a link to Google's results.

If this had been a blog post I came across in search, rather than a post by a Google Employee that seems to be validated by several individuals in my circles that I consider authorities, I probably would not even bothered to finish reading the post.
 
+Mark Traphagen many thanx for a great post discussing the Google Author issue.  this is very interesting, and what gets me personally worried is the number of people who believe that Google authorship is dead.

This in my mind is purely because of a poor understanding of what Google authorship is amongst most SEO people who practice BLACK HAT SEO and offer INSTANT RESULTS  

Having your image in the SERP's was an instant improvement, and many SEO techies advertised this, promoting it as a way to get instant improvements, with out discussing what GOOGLE AUTHORSHIP entails and why it is good for your long term efforts.  Reading the comments on this post highlights that instantly, and caused me an awful lot of disdain for those who advocated this practice.

There are many who have been trying to game this ranking factor from day one, and those are easily spotted becuase they talk of authorship being in a mess, as +Dimitri Lambermont does in the comment above.

Google related authorship where a participant has taken the time to set up their personal profile, and fill out all the necessary info is not in a mess, but us as outsiders to the Google process, we  need to accept and understand that these issues are complicated and they need to be evaluated over time, to ensure that those who are here to game the system, are caught out and punished accordingly.

The removal of our images from along side the SERP's is just a step in the process of evaluating how this impacts on the bigger picture, and a means for Google to evaluate who the BLACK HAT PLAYERS ARE

Once again thanx for a great post, shared further.

#frankie2socks    #fufism  
 
+Mark Timberlake if memory serves me, this feature was touted by Google as an improvement in the appearance of search results early on. (⚠ memory may not be serving me, hence the disclaimer)

It will be interesting to see how long it takes the webteam to clean up all of the documentation they have on authorship and how/if the Structured Data Testing Tool will be modified.

I'm finding that as time goes on, Google's website/product pages contain less useful information and more fluff so I hope that the "fluff team" isn't assigned to clean up the pages related to authorship.
 
+Mark Traphagen, using inductive reasoning to discuss an issue is not necessarily illogical or a "conspiracy theory".

There are a possible number of different reasons for this change, and we cannot know for certain if any of them are correct, we are all guessing here to one extent or another.

It could well be that this was done to improve search.

But it is equally valid to consider this as some type of power play and the possibility of Vic leaving could have created a vacuum, we all heard the rumours around that departure and these events would fit into that scenario.

It is all however equally speculative and equally inductive at this time unless Google state something otherwise.

So I will personally be keeping my mind open to both possibilities until a deductive conclusion is presented.
 
+Mark Vang Google never ever shares their hard data with us about anything in search. Anyone who has followed them closely would see that as neither a surprise nor a cause to raise eyebrows.
 
+Mark Vang
, if that is the case, that it was originally presented as an improvement in search, then that would indicate that either:

A) They were wrong.
B) This is spin.

The real question here is this:

Do Google need Google+ to make semantic search work?
 
+Mark Traphagen I'm 50... nothing much causes me to raise my eyebrows anymore. Honestly, there is just too much effort involved for me to bother.

Apparently Google's mother never taught them that it's nice to share... and they seemed to have skipped class on the day the lesson on transparency and trust was given.

+Mark Timberlake ... I'm thinking both "B" and "A" apply here...? Are we allowed to choose more than one answer?
 
+Mark Timberlake
I like your line of thinking, how ever I am of the opinion that there were too many BLACK HAT SEO techies who pushed for the image factor in the results and did not support the total Google author package, and that this is a drive to fix that misconception, and remove the black hat impact.

So both your answers
a) they were wrong and
b) there is spin are correct

the search results were contaminated by the Black hat crew. in their efforts to gain instant gratification for their efforts, which caused many to see this (Google Authorship)  in the wrong light, and Google surely does need this to help in their semantic search effort. 

The issue is so many other social media platforms have complained to Google about the time that Google's spiders take up during the processing efforts, and some have even barred Google's spiders because of their constant info requests and continuous updates (spider re-crawls) every time a comment is made, which cost machine time and can cause delays for their end users.
 
+Mark Vang you have avoided a classical logical trap right there...

There might be a C....
 
+Frank Gainsford Do black hat seo techies need images to game the system?

They will still game the system if the images are there or not, surely?

I think image rich search results are a step forward, not a step backward.

Unless of course, the argument can be made that my little old iphone can't cope with all those nasty images in search... ;-)

Irony intended. :-)
 
I don't get +Frank Gainsford's thinking that this is some "out the spammer" move. Makes no sense to me, but I've responded to him on that in another thread.
 
John Mueller has just added two comments to his original post about this:

"Just to be clear, this has nothing to do with Google+, nor with ads. This change only affects how authorship is shown in search (we continue to process & use authorship markup). "

"No, this is really just about the UI shown in seach. We’re always working on making Google Search better -- we made 890 updates in 2013 alone.  We’ve decided this new design works better, particularly on mobile."
 
+Mark Traphagen "experience has taught me never again to get emotionally attached to anything Google does ;-)" ....best comment in the history of ever! 

And it pretty much goes for everything related to social media, yes? Google + is Google and therefore a different ball of wax entirely than Facebook (of the ever-declining organic reach), but seems like ALL changes of any consequence on social media are greeted with a good bit of skepticism and upset.
 
Thanks for sharing that Mark.

"...Just to be clear, this has nothing to do with Google+, nor with ads..."

So if that is true why has the circle counts been removed?
 
+Eli Fennell That is a very well written and thought out post.  I am in 100% agreement with you.  Thank You
 
+Mark Traphagen I use Google Scholar a great deal doing research for my academic journal.  How academics decide if someone has "author rank" is how many citations of a particular work are in other people's published works.  It was not that long ago that FINDING that information took most of your time when researching (now it takes a few seconds on Google Scholar).  I wonder if Google will start to use something like that for author rank.  (# of citations has some really bad data points, BTW, because citations alone do not guarantee that the ideas are any good, but it does give you at least a place to start your research.)
 
+Meg Tufano Actually, the academic industry is struggling with the limitations of this approach as well, with a cottage industry of "pay-to-publish" journals with respectable-sounding names starting to creep into citations.
 
+Eli Fennell One of the weirder things about academic journals is that they are INCREDIBLY expensive!  My guess (because I know what it "costs" to publish an online academic journal) (and to publish hard-copy books and eBooks) is that they are making a mint.  And those are the well-respected journals in varying fields.  I didn't know about the pay-to-publish academic journals.  THAT is seriously smarmy.  If you have done some research and want to write about that, I'd love to publish about that topic!  ;')  
 
+Mark Traphagen I can be a conspirationist but pretending Google developpers just want the best search engine experience doesn't help either. The design (colors, policy sizes, meta descriptions) has changed many times in the past not only to improve the user experience but mostly to get more clicks on ads (and I don't think Google really denied it in the past). Google is a good search engine because it gives the best results comparing to the other competitors, that's why most people keep using using it. The design is really a minor factor so whatever Google changes people will keep using it as long as it gives the best results. And with time, people also tend to become more and more resistant to ads. Obviously, I understand the Google is not a charity and that's why they are making a big step back. They wanted to give an incentive for people to adopt Google +. It's not as successfull as they wish probably so back to business. Besides I could understand the argument for mobile phones but for desktops I don't see the point of deleting pictures.

"2a) The assumption that removing a feature from organic search automatically leads to more ad clicks has no basis. Does it make sense to think that people think, "Oh, there are no author photos in these results. Oh well, I guess I'll just click some ads then!" Absurd."

Not that absurd. But shown in this way yes it is. When we click, we obvisously don't have the perfect state of consciousness otherwise we would never click on ads. Studies show people click only 11% of the time on ad links. The brain has a tendency to prefer pictures than words which make authorship attractive. For instance, a gorgeous girl picture will always receive more clicks, because the brain doesn't act rationally all the time.  If you have a search engine page just with words you don't have the "unfair" competition with images. It makes perfect sense that some people who could click on the picture of the beautiful girl with no reason would click somewhere else if this picture disappears. So 89% of these extra unrational clicks would go to other natural results and 11% would go to ads (and not 100% as presented in your case). 

As a user, I will keep using Google because it gives the best results whatever the design even if I really don't like the new change. The same happens with facebook, I still have it because all my friends are on it although I hated the changes but I still don't have any better option. Maybe it seems a "conspirationnist theory" but I seriously doubt Google gives a wild card to its designers to make the best user experience.
 
LOL +Mark Vang as long as I don't meet myself coming and going. That would be unnerving.
 
It still hasn't been clearly answered how this will affect personal G+ posts in search results. My thinking is if the photos go so will the personal search results or both will remain.
 
+Mark Traphagen I was asked to "friend" Meg Tufano (old account that will never get off of FB).  It had that doppelganger feel to it!!!!!
 
That's too bad. Imagery is relevance and the author is very relevant to every article. It's an easy way to scan the page and see a face you trust to go click on a result. 
 
People made a lot of efforts gaining authority and this was one of the few lever to promote credibility and good content. No way! This isn't based on UX. If this is a «mobile first» decision, then make it adaptative that's all.
 
+Al Remetch +Pete Meyers of Moz reported that they disappeared from his personalized search first. So, yes, I think we can expect that this affects both personalized and logged out search.

But I see no reason why this means the end of personalized search. This was only one small feature of that
 
+Mark Traphagen thanks.  That's basically what I'm seeing.  On natural organic search results I'm see the photos disappear in personal search.  However, there are still photos for some personal search results.
 
Google is obviously getting rid of profile pictures on Google+. We will all be represented by wordclouds based on our search history instead.
 
+Andrij Harasewych I was rather hoping they would represent me by a thumbnail of Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
 
+Mark Traphagen I had a dream last night that Google was doing this so that one could never confuse it with "face" book.  ;')  
 
+Mark Traphagen Takes away the advantage of those good at Photoshop!  ;')  (Kidding.)  But this should calm people down.  In fact, it's a good "sales" idea because then people will want to be "Googlified" so they can see who's whose photo!  Smart, those Googlifyers.
 
Somehow, the postings are now out of order.  There was a posting by Mark inbetween these two postings of mine.  +Mark Traphagen ?
 
+Mark Traphagen Sorry, I was trying to figure out why the sequence of postings changed.  Maybe an edit.
 
If you do a search on a subject that is in Wikipedia, a GIANT box on the right will appear that completely dominates the search result. Google will do that, but now removes our tiny little picture? And why is WIkipedia given so much weight? Weird.
 
+Joel Fletcher that's part of Google's Knowledge Graph project, which among other things has a goal of giving searchers quick answers when they may be just looking for a quick fact ("How tall is the Eiffel Tower?") that doesn't really require a click through to answer.

While it is highly dependent on a few major sources like Wikipedia right now, Google is working to expand that. We are seeing more and more of these quick facts that are from "regular" but highly trusted web sites.
 
+Mark Traphagen Well, this "knowledge graph" project seems to contradict the excuse for getting rid of authorship images. I can't imagine those huge boxes fitting on cell phones.
 
+Joel Fletcher On Android phones, the Knowledge Graph is integrated into the Google Now feature, so no effect on straight search results.
 
To ALL who commented here... many thanx for a very informative conversation on the issue of our author pics in the SERP's....

Shared this conversation further...
 
An interesting side issue +Mark Traphagen. We've noticed a slightly better conversion rate since the demise of the author pic
 
Looking at the stats of my website, there is a definite drop in visits within the last week. Subjective proof that the missing authorship photo decreases CTR. :-(
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